So I tried something different today. On my way home, I popped into a couple of my favorite galleries, and leaned in really close to the canvases to look at the paint. Especially the ones that look the way i want my painting to look. When I look at a work, I think I normally see a picture more than a painting. Sometimes we miss the forest for the trees, getting caught up in details, but sometimes the opposite is true. Sometimes we're so focused on the big picture that we remain in absolute ignorance of the the elements that create it.
A painting is, after all, made of paint, not picture. So I tried to focus on the details. Examining brush strokes, or knife strokes. Feeling in my mind the body of the paint on the brush, how it pulls on the canvas. Seeing the brush or knife in my mind. The size. The shape. The angle it's held at. Imagining even the mixing of the paint, the subtle variation in shade, the pools of color across the palate.
I think I see my problem. I'm just so damn scared of putting paint on the canvas.
This probably makes all sorts of sense, since I'm still very inexperienced with my medium. I've been trying to put the picture on the canvas somehow without really placing the paint, because I just don't have any idea what the paint is going to do.
The picture is what I want to see when I'm finished, and what I want others to see when they look, but I get so nervous about how to build that picture. I can mix the right shade, and i can put it on a brush, wield that brush with meticulous care, and I can make the shape where it needs to be, but I end up with something very static. Flat. Too polished, too smooth, too stylized, almost cartoonish.
Or I go to the other extreme. I put paint on my brush, then push brush to canvas with no deliberation, and hope the brush creates what I want to see. I'm not using it as a tool, but as a crutch. This gives those parts of the painting more motion and texture, but they're crude, inelegant, unlovely, and not at all what I want, only what I stopped at because things were getting worse instead of better.
Really, the only way to find out what the paint will do when it hits canvas is to just start scooping it up and putting it there. Playing with it. Experimentation and observation, like any good little scientist. But also, just like getting 8 count lindy hop steps into my muscle memory alongside 6 count east coast swing, or feeling where in my voice an interval falls, or how my fingers run through a lick on the trumpet, I just have to DO it so I can feel it.
In imagining the painting of the pieces I looked at today, I think I have my mind around it a little more. Next I have to get my body around it. Get the picture out of my head and sculpt it into the paint.
Then let it out into the world.